I met my wife Mary in 1991 above the Arctic Circle and I knew instantly I wanted to start a family with her someday. After a few years of adventuring together, we were thrilled to learn we were pregnant with our first child, Alyssa, in the Spring of 1998. Little did we know, later that same year we would have to say goodbye.
When Alyssa was just 20 days old, she passed away in our arms at SickKids Hospital in Toronto. At that moment, it felt like the world stopped. We didn’t know what our future held.
Fast-forward 20 years later, and we’ve raised over $700,000 in her memory for the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) and the Alyssa Rae Johnson Foundation at SickKids Hospital.
My name is Bruce Johnson, and this is my Real Heart story.
I’ve always found that the most inspired volunteers are those who have the strongest connection to their cause.
You don’t always choose your cause and you never know when it will come.
My cause came into this world on November 17th, 1998 at 9:03 am. Alyssa was born with a large omphalocele, a condition where some internal organs remain outside of the body at birth. She lived a miraculous 20 hard-fought days.
I didn’t know at the time that this would lead to a life mission of giving back and raising money for CMN and the Alyssa Rae Johnson Foundation at SickKids.
The support Mary and I received from SickKids counsellors, doctors and CMN was incredible. It felt like someone took their wings and put them around us.
“It felt like someone took their wings and put them around us”
CMN and SickKids supported our family to such an extent that we knew we wanted to find a way to give back and continue to help other families who were experiencing something similar.
It wasn’t until 2013, when I returned to the same hospital where Alyssa passed away, that something clicked. I met a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse who remembered Alyssa. I spoke with the nurse and relived the memories from 15 years earlier and realized we could do so much more for CMN and SickKids.
I was inspired. As a RE/MAX Miracle Agent, I had always donated a portion of my sales to CMN through the Miracle Home program but now it was now deeply personal.
At the same time, my 12-year-old daughter Holly had been dreaming of doing a cross-continent motorcycle journey with me from our home in Wasaga Beach to Costa Rica. She was a keen young explorer with an itch to travel and we talked about doing a long motorcycle trip together for a couple of years.
We realized we could honour the legacy of Alyssa with this journey while also raising funds and awareness for the two organizations that meant so much to us.
From the day we decided to travel across North America, Holly’s new after-school activity was mapping out our route and locating RE/MAX offices to visit on the way to Costa Rica. We wondered where we’d sleep, eat and find fuel as we went further south into Central America, but I knew from past journeys that the universe just takes care of you if you let it.
Before we knew it, we were on the road. Our five-month trek started on November 4, 2013, from the front steps of SickKids Hospital.
We made it clear from day one that every dollar raised went directly to CMN Hospitals. Our family paid for all travel-related expenses but thanks to the kindness of strangers, we were constantly hosted along the route by families.
We didn’t have a fundraising plan in place before the trip as this was our first time doing anything like this, so we constantly found ourselves having to explain the fundraising goals of our journey when we visited RE/MAX offices.
It was heartwarming how countless agents showed their support and helped us raise funds.
I wanted to find a way to show the strength of our real estate family so along the way we had donors sign a large RE/MAX flag. Over 500 people eventually signed the flag (including Magic Johnson) which we sold at an auction in Las Vegas for an astounding $30,000 to RE/MAX Integra of Ontario. They then surprised us by giving the flag back to our family.
This first trip meant so much to me because people were very receptive to our story. People wanted to help us reach our fundraising goal and their unconditional support inspired us.
Holly and I knew at this point we had something special with Motorcycle For Miracles.
We learned what was successful and what wasn’t. It was worth every hardship and it’s my hope as a Real Heart Ambassador to not only share our story but share what we’ve learned over the years to inspire others.
Motorcycle for Miracles isn’t about me or Holly and that’s on purpose. It’s about the children at CMN and SickKids. It’s always about the children.
I believe in selflessness. Watch someone who is doing their work selflessly. That’s what should motivate you. It’s not about you, but the cause you’re helping.
“Use video for everything. People engage with video and it helps you tell your story. If you’re afraid of getting on camera, get used to it.”
Time. Talent. Treasure.
Mony Nop, a REALTOR® friend from California, taught me this phrase. He helped remind me that fundraising can’t be done alone. It’s a collective effort that forces you to rely on what he calls the three pillars of success in charity work: time, talent or treasure (money).
Someone can offer you their time, their talent or their money. Not everyone can offer all three, but a successful fundraiser will know how and when to leverage someone’s help.
Motorcycle For Miracles wouldn’t be where it was today if it wasn’t for the support, we sought out from people who were willing to give.
During our second journey, the Ride Across Canada, Holly and I rode Miracle the motorcycle from coast to coast visiting all 14 Canadian children’s hospitals.
We changed our method of raising funds by enlisting the support of 31 Champion Agents across Canada before we rode a single kilometre. Those agents helped us raise nearly $200,000 and, thanks to the power of social media and video, they were able to closely follow our progress and offer shelter and encouragement along the way.
These were people putting their hands up. It almost felt like a relay race of kindness. Every stop we made, these Champion Agents left a unique and lasting impression. We could feel their passion and excitement for CMN and, by extension, Motorcycle for Miracles.
Using what we learned from the first two trips, we set out in 2018 on our biggest journey yet: The Ends of the Earth Ride. This took us from the Arctic Ocean to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost town in the world. We rode through 14 countries for nearly six months to complete this 25,000 km expedition.
We grew the number of Champion Agents to 100 generous souls and greatly increased our use of video which helped us raise over $400,000 on this journey.
“Find your champions.
Find your tribe.”
My number one tip for fundraising is you need to ask everyone you know for help. Find your champions. Find your tribe. Be okay with letting people help.
There’s something inherent in a REALTORS’® DNA to give back. The most successful REALTORS® I’ve been around are those who invest their time in a cause.
We live and breathe our communities. Being someone who is involved in charitable projects is part of the ethos to what makes a successful REALTOR®.
“There is nothing better in the world than doing something where you are volunteering and giving back.“
I’m honoured to be a Real Heart Ambassador. My hope is to inspire others to take up a cause dear to them and support it in any way they can.
Being a Real Heart Ambassador embodies what Motorcycle for Miracles is all about - building a legacy and giving back more than just money.
It’s also about mentorship. I hope to provide the tools and advice to those looking to give back to their own communities. I’m proud to share my story but, more importantly, guide those interested in becoming community champions.
To learn how you can support Motorcycle For Miracles and the Alyssa Rae Johnson Fund at SickKids hospital, please visit the links below.
Photo credit: Matt Day, CREA